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Mountain trek part of fundraiser in friend’s memory

Paul McCauley ’88 can’t forget Cara Olson, a member of the Class of 1989. Paul and Cara were involved in a car accident in early September 1986, and Cara was killed. During his long recovery, he vowed he would never forget her. He makes sure others remember her too.

Cara Olson is remembered for her big smile and caring personality

Cara was unforgettable, McCauley said. Bubbly, outgoing, always smiling. And the memory of her smile is now the impetus behind a campaign to help children in undeveloped countries born with a cleft palate have a surgery to restore their health. McCauley is in the midst of a campaign to raise $1 million for Smile Train, an organization that trains doctors in-country to perform cleft palate surgeries so that these children can live normal lives. Without the surgery, some can’t eat properly while others are ostracized for being “cursed.” To draw attention to the fundraiser, McCauley and his teenage daughter recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

The goal sounds huge, but in reality, it just has about $285,000 to go. The idea to raise $1 million came to him after the Cara Lynette Olson Charitable Trust last year donated $140,000, which then grew to $700,000 for Smile Train after an anonymous donor offered a five-time matching grant for every donation to the nonprofit. So far, McCauley’s Climb for Cara campaign has raised nearly $15,000 through friends, family and Facebook posts.

Maddie and Paul McCauley ’88 sit on a bench at a Tanzanian hospital that honors the Cara Olson Foundation’s gift.

With the $700,000 gift to Smile Train, he estimates 2,800 children will get the surgery, which costs about $250 each. When the fundraiser hits $1 million, another 1,200 will be helped. McCauley said this part of the fundraiser may take a lot longer than the first $700,000, but he’s going to keep promoting it until it reaches the goal.

“I’ve always wanted to raise one million dollars for Cara,” he said. “Cara always smiled, and they (Smile Train) do smiles, so it seemed like a really good fit.”

When McCauley was in Tanzania for his mountain trek, he saw the impact the corrective surgery has. He visited a hospital where Smile Train-funded cleft palate surgeries are performed and met 19 patients as well as two families whose children previously had the surgery performed.

“These are life-changing surgeries,” he said. “It was heartwarming to see firsthand the impact on these children’s lives that has happened in Cara’s name.”

Maddie McCauley holds a child whose cleft palate was treated by the donation to Smile Train.

McCauley and his 16-year-old daughter, Madison Cara “Maddie” McCauley, spent 16 days in late August in Tanzania, 10 climbing the mountain. Climbing a mountain had been a dream of his daughter’s since she was 2 years old when she told her daycare teacher she was going to be a mountain climber. When she was 5, Maddie and McCauley decided they would climb Mount Kilimanjaro together once she was old enough.

They stuck to that agreement and planned to make the mountain trek next year, so McCauley started running 35 miles a week to train. His daughter is an athlete at Notre Dame Academy in Covington, Ky., so he had to get himself in shape to keep up with her on the climb. Then Maddie’s school calendar changed, and with her not returning to school until after Labor Day, moving the climb to this summer suddenly became possible. McCauley ramped up his training to include cardio workouts and a lot of stair climbing. He also talked to several people who had made the trip.

Once on the mountain, the McCauleys found the climb strenuous, but using a climbing company that transported and set up their tents each day helped a lot, he said. They spent about eight hours hiking each day with a group and a guide and reached the summit – 19,391 feet above sea level – in six and a half days. (And two and half going down.)

Paul and Maddie McCauley pose at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

Once at the top, they were fortunate to arrive at mid-afternoon on a sunny day with the temperature just below freezing with no other groups at the summit. Typically, climbers arrive at night or when the weather is too cold or windy to enjoy the experience. They were able to spend about an hour at the top because no other groups were there at the same time – another rare occurrence, which McCauley took as a sign from Cara.

“We were higher than a lot of airplanes fly,” he said. “By the fourth day, we were looking down at the clouds. It was a beautiful experience, and a beautiful country. I felt like Cara was looking down on us the whole trip.”

Now back home, McCauley marvels how Cara is still touching people more than 30 years later, not only with his efforts but with her family’s as well. Thanks to their fundraising, Cara’s memory has helped people in Southern Indiana, victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and now around the world through Smile Train.

“It’s such an emotional thing for me and such an inspirational thing,” McCauley said. “I just want Cara to be remembered for the wonderful person she was and the great impact she’s had on the world.”

Olsons continue to donate in daughter’s memory
McCauley said he was inspired to set the bar high for his fundraiser thanks to Olson’s parents, Joe and Carolyn (Hupp) Olson ’66, who continue to donate money in their daughter’s name. For 23 years starting in 1988, the Olsons held the Cara Olson Memorial Golf Scramble. In its early years, the donations went to Providence, but as the years went on, the recipients broadened and included St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Charities, the American Red Cross, and many more.

Joe Olson said the golf scramble raised about $160,000 over more than two decades. And even though the family no longer hosts the golf scramble, they continue to donate their own money in Cara’s name, from helping out individuals with medical expenses to the Center for Lay Ministries.

McCauley also is inspired by the Olsons’ efforts that resulted in the Wrongful Death Law being changed. At the time of Cara’s death, a law first written in the 1880s was still in effect that put no monetary value on a child’s life. The Olsons tried to sue the trucking company whose employee caused the accident not for the money but because of its bad safety record, Joe Olson said. They hoped to in effect close down the company. When they learned of the old law, they started a campaign that made local and state news, and the law was changed in 1987.

Olson said it means a lot to him that McCauley is helping children in his daughter’s name.

“Cara was a special person, not just because she was our daughter,” Olson said. “I had no idea how many people she touched until after she died. She was always smiling, so I think it is appropriate that Smile Train was the charity that was picked.”

Olson said he also appreciates that so many of Cara’s and McCauley’s classmates still remember Cara – and are supporting the fundraiser. Olson didn’t attend Providence but many in his family did – his wife; his brothers, Paul ’76 and Dana ’66 Olson; her brothers, Mike ’67 and Dennis ‘70 Hupp, their son, Marc Olson ’94, and other extended family. He continues to be impressed by the sense of community among Providence alumni.

“There always seems to be a bond,” Olson said. “These classes are close. You have friends for a lifetime.”

Paul McCauley ’88 lives in Edgewood, Ky., with his wife, Julie, and their children, Maddie, 16, and Max, 14. For more information about McCauley’s Climb for Cara campaign, click here.

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